There are so many reasons to love outdoor cooking. Or at least there are according to new Fire Masters judge Jenni Lessard. The Métis chef reveals that watching people cook outside is actually right up her alley.
“It’s so exciting to me and it’s a big part of who I am and what I do,” she says. “It’s the earliest form of cooking and I would venture to say the healthiest and most realistic. You’re preparing food right where it was grown or harvested. That’s a huge part of why I love cooking outside – it just makes me feel good!”
On Fire Masters, Lessard reveals she watched the contestants’ techniques pretty closely. Not to copy anyone, she says, but because she was excited to potentially learn new skills and find inspiration for her own plates.
“Food tastes better outside,” she adds. “Your feet are crunching on the gravel and the fire is crackling, and you can smell the charcoal and look to the left and see one chef doing something and another chef doing something else on the right. There are just so many sights and sounds and smells that you don’t get when you’re cooking inside.”
When it comes to outdoor cooking, Lessard reveals pork always sends her down memory lane. “Pork chops on the grill are one of my first childhood memories that I remember my family cooking,” she explains. “That might have just been because of where we were and it was readily available to us. But if you’ve got a nice thick chop or kabobs it’s really forgiving on the grill.”
Feeling hungry? Read on for Lessard’s tips on how to grill the most perfect pork every single time.
Marinade and flavour
Jenni says she prefers to brine her pork in advance because it adds moisture to the meat. She recommends brining meat anywhere from two hours to two days depending on the cut and weight, but she says you can marinade pork with a dry rub or a wet marinade for a few hours before grilling as well.
Don’t stop there, though. According to the chef, pork in particular really picks up flavours from the grill, so if you’re using wood chips or other spices then factor that into your cook. “Pork really cakes on the flavours and scents,” she says. “Even more than beef. I like to use a cherrywood or applewood, or hickory to really get the best flavour out of chops.”
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Consider the cut
When it comes to pork chops, Jenni prefers hers to be about one-and-a-half inches thick for a meaty and juicy cook. However, she says it all depends on what your butcher or store has in stock, and any cut will do so long as you take that into consideration with your cook time.
“If you’ve got a large family and you want to quickly cook some chops, you would actually want a thinner cut that cooks faster,” she says. As for those packs, in which the pieces come in different weights and sizes? Jenni says to put the thicker chops on first and then time the thinner pieces to go on afterwards for an all-around even cook.
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Don’t neglect it and be patient
Although Jenni says pork is a forgiving meat on the grill, it still needs to be watched. In fact that may be her most important key to success. “You can still get a great piece of pork without brining or marinating, just don’t neglect it on the grill,” she says. “Don’t walk away. You want to watch it and time it and make sure that you’re there for it.”
She adds that’s particularly true for thinner cuts of meat, but outdoor cooks should probably consider it a rule of thumb for anything and everything they’re cooking by a fire.
Meanwhile, if you want to get that perfectly charred exterior on a porkchop (or really any piece of meat), she says patience is paramount. “You don’t want to turn it too soon because you don’t want it to stick and lose any of that meat,” she explains. “Hold off on that initial urge to check so there’s a good char on the chop before you turn it.”
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Use a thermometer
These days, Jenni can tell when a piece of pork is done on the grill just by the smell, but she recommends that at home you use a meat thermometer to ensure it is thoroughly cooked. Unlike chicken, pork can be pink in the centre, but it should be cooked to 140°F so that it’s safe to consume.
She adds with pork, you probably won’t dry it out by leaving it on the grill a little longer to get that nice char, but once your meat reaches the ideal temperature pull it off and allow it to rest.
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Bring it back to life
In the case you do happen to over-grill your pork and it comes out dry, Jenni has a few ideas on how you can revive it.
“Slice it super thin and then add a pesto or sauce,” she suggests. “That will bring it back to life if you do go a little too far. Or sometimes what I’ll do is take it off the heat source and immediately wrap it in tinfoil or put it in a pot and just let it sit for a while – not too long – so it re-humidifies itself.
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Don’t be afraid to experiment
One of Jenni’s favourite ways to grill pork is taking ground pork and making a long kebob with it. She then skewers it and cooks it like a sausage or meatball, resulting in delicious meat on a stick that she serves with a drizzle of sauce or yogurt. It’s just one of several ways she says you can – and should – experiment with the versatile meat on the outdoor grill.
“Pork pairs so well with many seasonal ingredients,” she says, recalling a competitor from the show who did “an amazing pork dish paired with kimchi” that knocked her socks off. “You can take any food from anywhere around the world that eats pork and it goes with almost any different flavour. It’s actually the most versatile meat.”
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